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| Shapiro, Appleton & Washburn

Positive train control or PTC has been in the news in recent days after a deadly train derailment and crash in Washington state. In that Amtrak train, PTC was implemented but it was not running yet.

In North Carolina, PTC also is being implemented, but as in Washington, what has been installed is not yet working, according to a recent data review. And it is not likely to be functioning by Dec. 31, 2018, which is the federal deadline.


According the the rail division director for NCDOT, the PTC implementation is 25% completed. Allen Paul stated this week that the state has finished PTC implementation in two locomotives and is doing a third now. He added that North Carolina intends to add a PTC unit every three weeks, which should mean the state will have all locomotives equipped with PTC by September 2018.

However, until CSX and Norfolk Southern perform technology upgrades, PTC will not actually work. Train companies must install the wayside PTC signal system, which is very expensive. PTC would automatically brake a train that is going too fast or is out of control for various reasons. It is possible that the train safety system could prevent many train accidents and derailments each year.

Federal data shows that the train companies across the country have a lot of work to do. CSX has only 33% of track segments equipped with PTC. Norfolk Southern has only 37%. Amtrak has 67%. CSX and Norfolk Southern report they will have the PTC upgrades finished by 2020.

Our View

Our experienced Virginia and North Carolina FELA and railroad accident injury attorneys know that PTC is very effective in stopping a train automatically before it can run a red signal. It also can automatically stop a train if the engineer is incapacitated or is not paying attention to their job duties.

There is no doubt that once PTC is implemented, many train accidents will be prevented each year. Some estimate that 40% of train accident stem from human error. PTC will prevent trains from going over the speed limit and not running red signals, so it is a certainty that accidents will be prevented.   We hope that CSX and Norfolk Southern in North Carolina and across the country do their part to ensure that PTC is working on all of their tracks as soon as possible.


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